In the late 1940s, my family drove to New Jersey by going through Philadelphia to Vine Street, then over the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Before that, and for a while after, just for fun, we took the ferry to the New Jersey side. We were going either to Ocean City, or to visit my rich aunt and uncle in Delanco whose house faced the Delaware River. Going to either place was a treat, and I have fond memories of the trips. (This aunt and uncle delivered me, so they were the first human faces I saw. He was the resident doctor, she was the head nurse at the small New Jersey hospital where my mother went to give birth. Their names are forever on my birth certificate.)
Back then, Chestnut Street (one-way into Philly) and Walnut Street (one-way, coming out) had timed traffic lights. I could see red lights far into the distance that magically turned green as we got close. Occasionally, a car would speed past us, but would have to wait at the next traffic light as we majestically cruised along at a constant 35 mph.
Timed lights are only possible on one-way streets. Concord Pike, that I now travel on, is two way. For a while, the lights are in sync, and I can move right along, but they gradually become out-of-sync over a two-week period until they are totally out-of-sync and traffic is backed up for miles. And that’s my only solace: knowing that from then on, day-by-day, traffic will get better—until the cycle starts over again.
The problem is three lights in quick succession at Tallyville. Drivers have a green light, but can’t move because traffic is backed up at the red light a block farther away. Finally, that light turns green, and they start to move, but then their light turns red. Some drivers can’t take the stress and go berserk, changing lanes and beeping their horn, but there’s no way out.
The cycle goes from fast, to gridlock, to fast again in about a month. I hear many people ask why they can’t time the lights. Because it’s impossible on a two-way highway. (In Tallyville, though, where the bottleneck occurs, Concord Pike is divided. Drivers cannot even see the other side. Why can’t they time the lights on each side separately? I’m guessing there is some bureaucratic reason.)